Saturday, July 19, 2008

Children and Worship, p. I

On any given Sunday, Christians from all over Christendom gather together to celebrate Christ. Some gather in an informal, loose way; others gather in an ancient pattern of worship known as the Liturgy (of which there are, granted, many different forms, though all are fairly formal, predictable, and therefore reliable). One thing most of these faith communities have in common is the separation of children from the Ministry of the Word, and the Sacrament of the Alter (at a later date, I will write an article expressing my views concerning the exclusion of children from the Eucharist). Quite basically, children are dismissed from the central functioning of the local church – the worship of Christ – at some point not long after, and sometimes even before the service begins.

Now there are some who would say that this is so because it reduces the amount of distractions in the congregation at any given time. Any person who is a parent should rightfully take offense to such a sentiment. Of course children can be a distraction, but only if your mind is focused on (and thereby already distracted) the exclusion of children as a valid, worshipping population of your congregation. That is, if the pattern of worship that people have come to accept, and expect is such that children are prompted to absence by the over-popular verbal valet, “could the children's ministry leaders now lead the children to their classrooms, please?” then an unnecessary, dare I say 'ungodly' assumption that children are a segment of people that need to be segregated from the 'real' worship becomes the guiding psychology of the congregation.

Parents feel ashamed that their children make noise, other parishoners react in irritation if they miss a refrain in a hymn, long-time attendees seem to forget their own children made noise too, and treat other parents as if they're doing a poor job disciplining their children to silence. Soon pastors, priests, bishops, and circuit counselors are brought in to set up a system to deal with the 'disorder' and 'unruliness' bludgeoning the silence congregants would prefer, but which is not necessarily a moral issue in need of such serious mitigation. What is missed in such drastic manouevers to establish a passive, receptive atmosphere to the mechanical revolutions of church worship is fatal and far-reaching.

The first fatal and far-reaching effect is, as I said earlier, that a psychological pattern is set up by partitioning children from the rest of the congregation. That pattern is the immediate pattern that seeps through the adult population and leadership of an assembly. What of the children though? What pattern is possibly set up in them when we routinely separate them from 'adult' worship?

I would like to submit that we're teaching our children that their uninhibited expressions, and spontaneity are first, a displeasure to God, and second, an irritation to the overall community of faith. Such weighty impressions being thrust on vulnerable, nascent minds, I believe, sets up a schismatic, possibly dissociative scheme in the psychology of our children. For example, we know that church attendence drops significantly when children are confirmed (in whatever way the local church does that), and/or reach their mid-teens, and that those 'drop-outs' tend to find acceptance in other circles that may, or may not have a positive influence on them. In any case, those same children who were once separated from the general congregation eventually find themselves leaving voluntarily because they've found acceptance in crowds outside the church; groups that accept regardless of volume, naivety, or age.

And really, why shouldn't those children – the same ones who received a 'shove-off' when they were young – find acceptance with people outside the church? Afterall, the latent hypocritical pattern of displacing the youth in our midst and then expecting them to join the rank-and-file later on is simply setting ourselves up for failure: divide the demographics of the congregation because of naivety and age, and then expect unity through doctrinal assimilation, and age, in the future. It is quite like cutting off the branch you're sitting on: the future generation of the church must be cut off from the goings-on of the church in the present. But cutting off the future from the present simply for ease of worship means only that the future is worked against, and more probably damaged by an ever-increasing depopulation of disenfranchised youth. Consequently, the 'ease' sought after by congregations morphs into a 'disease' that, rather than filling the pews with undistracted members, sees the pews being emptied out.

This kind of dividing is simply a microcosmic perpetuation of the greater, macrocosmic schisms in church history: the Great Schism of the East and West, the Reformation, and the numerous sects, denominations, and affiliations that have sprung up as a result. And although those church divisions continue to happen, some of our focus has turned to dividing ourselves from ourselves due to the relative age of the people within a local assembly. So while myriad external pressures play against the functioning of the church in this world, a very significant, dangerous pressure infects and divides the church internally. I call these particular internal pressures theological snobbery, and age-segregation. And these particular pressures, I contend, receive no place in Scripture.

In my next installment in this series, I will explore Scripture and make a case for the second fatal and far-reaching effect of segregating children from the central worship service of a church: it forces the probability of apostate generations, relies on the dubious hope of prodigals, and turns preferences into moralisms.

2 comments:

justsomename said...

Churches do the same thing with getting rid of people with mental health issues and developmental disabilities who they find distracting from worship. Wouldn't it be worship to welcome these people?

Christopher said...

JSN,

Yes, it would be an act of service, which is a way to worship Christ. Unfortunately, I've heard some pretty crass comments regrading the developmentally challenged and their participation in Church services; e.g., "It's not like they know the difference, anyway." But that kind of attitude, no matter how it's expressed, undermines, and even disregards the witness of the Spirit to these peoples' hearts and minds.

The main thrust of my articles I hope will ring out like this: we call ourselves the 'family of God', so why do we separate ourselves based on social convenience? We can see how that destroys the psychology of a family, so why repeat the same mistake in our churches and think we'll get a different result? It's utter insanity, as far as I'm concerened.